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Friday, 23 April 2010

T T Tsui

My old boss, Tsui Tsin-tong, has died in China aged 69. He suffered a stroke whilst still active as a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultantive Conference.

"TT", as he was always known, was a prominent Hong Kong businessman. His name became known in transport circles here when he expanded his portfolio of companies outside Hong Kong, where he owned Citybus, to acquire the London bus operations of EnsignBus in 1990 in what would become Capital Citybus, which he owned until 1995.

It was widely expected that further acquisitions would follow. In fact his activities were part of a more general diplomatic initiative which ended as abruptly as it had started as the relations between China and UK improved in the period after the Tiananmen Square episode of 1989. Subsequently Hong Kong ceased to be a British colony. The details of this are much more about international economic and political history than transport. When I write my book I shall cover this in more detail.

Until then, suffice to say, that working for a rich Chinese philanthropist was an interesting experience - one shared by my close colleague and hero Lyndon Rees who will have his own chapter in my book - a man who arrived in Hong Kong to open platform double-deckers with two conductors and retired having brought tri-axle air-conditioned one-person buses to the colony.

Returning to TT, we made frequent visits to Hong Kong, some of which were simply to be displayed as the European trophies of growing Far Eastern economic growth. As is the way, sometimes we arrived and were kept waiting for days. On other occasions we were whisked off a long flight to be taken to a huge event and promptly despatched again. People in the circle changed rapidly. On one occasion we spent an entire day (a Saturday I might add) discussing business opportunities, only to be taken aside in the plush toilets of some Hong Kong skyscraper to be told the meeting was a sham and would be re-run tomorrow without one of the key people who had already been earmarked for dismissal.

There was little time for rest. A rare free Sunday afternoon was interrupted with the news that we were to "go walking" with TT. We ended up at a restaurant where the hapless occupants of a large table were ejected by the owners and replaced by us as the owner welcomed our illustrious leader.

Of course the conversation was largely in Cantonese and we strained to hear our names pronounced in English and hoped to catch the intonation around it to work out whether the reference was positive or otherwise.

And then in a flash time was up and they were gone.

TT was a great collector of ancient Chinese artefacts. I kid you not - the capital expenditure approval for what is now our Northumberland Park depot was being discussed at another huge meeting of mostly strange Chinese characters. Whilst the agenda item was being discussed, a youthful but scruffy lad entered the room clutching a tatty carrier bag. TT partially withdrew the contents - a vase of some kind by the looks of it. He beamed excitedly as this new artefact came into his possession. He promptly announced we were adjourning for a celebration lunch and when reminded of the business at hand, approved the purchase of Northumberland Park with a wave of his hand.

His rise in business was accompanied by critics and periodically questions of the origins of his wealth made the press - occasionally in the UK and sometimes referring to arms sales.

We saw nothing of this - we did see his extraordinary persuasive and inciteful personality, generosity, and political influence. We also saw a rather short attention span and rarely understood his longer term direction. We were part of something else.

There was much else going on - and sadly we neither understood the activities nor the language......

Here, outside his Mayfair flat, and after a couple of hours standing in the street with  a cardboard bus, I pose with T T Tsui for a publicity shot to promote our bid to run London bus route 29 using three-axle, air-conditioned Leyland Olympians sometime in 1991.


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